Austrians vote to retain conscript army – exit polls

Austrians vote to retain conscript army – exit polls

Austria has voted to retain its conscript army, with exit polls showing 60 per cent of voters rejecting the proposed switch to a force of professional volunteers.

The wide margin of victory comes as a surprise, since pre-election surveys predicted a win by only a few percentage points.

Austria’s armed forces currently consist of around 35,000 troops – 14,000 professionals and the rest conscripts who serve for six months – as well as a part-time militia of 30,000 soldiers.

The reform suggested 8,500 career soldiers – 7,000 who sign up for an average of three years, 9,300 militia members, and greater focus on defending against cyber-attacks and terrorism.

Supporters of change said a professional army would be more effective - critics said it would put Austria's cherished neutrality at risk.

Austrian men must serve six months in the army or nine months in civilian service when they reach 18.

Increasingly few European countries demand compulsory military service. France abandoned conscription in 1996, and Germany in 2011.

Calls for an end to conscription are growing in Austria's neighbour, Switzerland, which is also neutral.